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When I visit my site I see a '403 - Forbidden' message. What's up?

A 403 error means that the browser has requested a page that the server won't allow it to view. There are a few reasons that this could be the case.

Missing or incorrectly named index file

When you create your website, you need to create an index file so that your server can display a home page for your website. This usually needs to be named something like index.html, index.htm or index.php. If your server can't find one of these files when it tries to show your website's home page to a visitor, it will show them a 403 error.

Make sure you have one of these files in your web root folder (this will be /var/www on Ubuntu systems by default). When you install a web server on your VPS, the system might create one automatically—so make sure you delete this file before you upload your website, or your server will keep showing this page to your website's visitors.

Incorrect access control settings

If you're using Apache (on our LAMP stack, for instance), it's possible to control access to your website by using a file called .htaccess in your site's web root folder. This file controls web server settings, and access control is one of the options you can set.

If you have one of these files in your web root folder, it's possible that the access control settings inside it are preventing you from accessing your site. Open the file and look for lines that look like the following:

Order deny,allow
Deny from all

The above lines would prevent access to your website by anyone. You may not have these exact lines in the file, but there may be something similar. Try removing these lines or 'commenting them out' (place a # at the start of the lines). If that doesn't work, try deleting the file.

Permissions errors

Every file on your system has permissions associated with it. (This is true for any file system.) Your files need to have global read permissions to be accessible from the web. Global read permissions means that everyone is able to read the file.

To change the permissions of a file, you'll need to SSH into your server and use the chmod command to set them. You can use symbols (such as r, w and x) to set permissions, or enter a mode number.

Common permission mode number settings are:

  • 711 or 755 for folders
  • 644 for PHP scripts, HTML pages and all other files

Unless you have a specific reason for changing these settings, we recommend you keep them as they are.

Server disabled

If, for any reason, we have had to disable your server, we might return a 403 error to your visitors. We will contact you to explain why we have done this - please see this message for more information.

If none of these solutions work, please contact us and we'll be happy to help.